"Three Blind Mice" is an old children's tune, but a team of scientists have taken it seriously: they discovered a chemical that temporarily restores some vision to blind mice. This could someday allow people with degenerative blindness to see again.
Because the chemical eventually wears off, it may offer a safer alternative to other experimental approaches for restoring sight, such as gene or stem cell therapies, which permanently change the retina.
Researcher Richard Kramer says, "The advantage of this approach is that it is a simple chemical, which means that you can change the dosage, you can use it in combination with other therapies, or you can discontinue the therapy if you don't like the results. As improved chemicals become available, you could offer them to patients. You can't do that when you surgically implant a chip or after you genetically modify somebody." This is especially important in cases of age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of acquired blindness in the developed world.
Mice are surprisingly like us, and they're the ones we experiment on when we want to test drugs. But are we putting them--and us--in danger if we go too far? For instance, scientists are using genetically-modified mosquitoes to combat deadly diseases in developing world, but by solving some problems they may create new ones.
In the February 24th edition of the New York Times, Maggie Koerth-Baker quotes researcher Nora Haenn as saying,: "What this does in the public mind is, undermine people's belief in science. It creates skepticism."
"The first round of scientific innovation--when science solves the problem imposed on us by nature--is accepted gratefully, even uncritically. We must now manage the risks that we have created, as well as those we continue to create."
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